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Glenn Close Stars in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" at the Palace Theatre
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Glenn Close Stars in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" at the Palace Theatre

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et al.
By arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd.

The English National Opera Production of
Glenn Close
Sunset Boulevard
(Sunset Boulevard Website)

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book and Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Based on the Billy Wilder Film

Directed by Lonny Price
Choreographed by Stephen Mear

Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, Fred Johanson

And an ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

At the
Palace Theatre
Broadway and 47th Street

Set Design: James Noone
Costume Design: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Sound Design: Mick Potter
Glenn Close Original Costume Design: Anthony Powell
Glenn Close Wig Design: Andrew Simonin
Glenn Close Makeup Design: Charlotte Hayward
Wig, Hair, & Makeup Design: Dave Bova & A. Jared Janas
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet & Christian Kelly-Sordelet
Press Representative: DKC/O&M
Production Stage Manager: Timothy Semon
Music Supervision and Direction: Kristen Blodgette
Orchestrations & Arrangements:
David Cullen & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Music Coordinator: David Lai
Casting: David Grindrod, CDG,
Tara Rubin, CSA, Eric Woodall, CSA
Exec. Producer: Johnny Hon
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions, Inc.
General Manager: The Charlotte Wilcox Company,
Matthew W. Krawiec

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 16, 2017

Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in the English National Opera Production of Sunset Boulevard, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on Billy Wilder’s film, is a stunning actress in a tour de force performance, one to be hailed for years to come. Yet, as a Broadway singer, that’s to be discussed below. The industrial scenery, that evokes Hollywood’s golden glamor in understated starkness, showcases Ms. Close in every appearance, with spotlights, entrance music, and vibrant drama. This actress has charisma, pathos, and magnetism. The audience stops the show after her solo song, “As If We Never Said Goodbye”, not because Ms. Close has operatic tones, but because she has operatic presence. James Noone’s minimalist scenery gives her space, as if she were a “deus ex machina”, descending from the rafters like a goddess on a machine. Her co-star, Michael Xavier, as the dead Joe Gillis, a character first seen suspended (from a machine) as a corpse, supposedly after being extricated from the infamous swimming pool, shot by a woman scorned, appears in flashback format, the narrator as in the film. If only Mr. Xavier had appeared in the dark, rough, bearded image seen in the Playbill. Instead, he appears in lighter hair, clean-shaven, in khakis. No match for the memory of William Holden’s brooding Gillis in the film.

Lonny Price, Director, and Mr. Webber, presumably, have added quite a bit of sitcom and choreographic fluff around Gillis, his object of desire Betty Schaeffer (Siobhan Dillon), her fiancé Artie Green (Preston Truman Boyd), and their Hollywood wannabee friends. Among this ensemble, Mr. Boyd is one actor I’d like to see again in a new role. Here, the extraneous banter seemed just that, extraneous. That is, when you cannot wait for that goddess, Norma Desmond, to descend that long stairway again and again. Matching Ms. Close’s mesmerizing performance is Fred Johanson, as Max von Mayerling, Ms. Desmond’s confidant, servant, butler, and bodyguard. Mr. Johanson almost stole the show, especially in his silent, profiled spotlights. Paul Schoeffler, as Cecil B. DeMille, who pretended to audition the former silent film star in a mock closeup on the set, also caught my eye. But it’s Glenn Close, time and again, who energizes and elevates this show. Her songs induce instantaneous applause and cheers, even show-stopping ovations, in spite of the fact that she does not reach or sustain melodic tones. The grandness of her costumes (oh, those costumes) and gestures overpowers the traces of atonality and limited vocal reach. Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s book and lyrics could be fine for staged operettas, but the filmatic Waxman theme, heard in monumental orchestral interludes, could have been enough, had this show been a theatrical recreation of the 1950 film. Ms. Close still could have danced about the stage in musical motion, now and then, but she and the cast would have been freed from the songs, which were far less enticing than the spoken narration and dialogue.

As noted, Anthony Powell’s original costumes for Ms. Close, on their own, were stars of this show. Exotic Asian motifs in line, color, and texture, as well as in oversized jewelry, make these costumes worthy of a show at a local fashion design atrium. Tracy Christensen’s costumes for remaining cast were mostly persuasive, especially in the on-set Hollywood scenes. But, mentioned earlier, Mr. Xavier’s khakis and bland, silky suits and raincoat (acquired in Norma’s generous shopping sprees) did little to magnify his masculinity. After all, Gillis is shot when he tries to leave Desmond’s mansion, scorning the bed of the aging, acidic actress for the bright, bubbly Betty. Kristen Blodgette, Orchestra Conductor, was stupendous, with the thematic orchestrations so transfixing. Mick Potter’s sound design carried spoken dialogue and sung lyrics throughout the expansive Palace Theatre. Yet, Ms. Close could have presented a solo, spoken performance, an adaptation of the plot, with the Max and Gillis characters side stage, and the audience would still have gone wild, especially with a bit of the Waxman theme evoked in the midst. Kudos to Glenn Close for her extraordinary talent and presence.

Glenn Close, Michael Xavier, and the Company of "Sunset Boulevard"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Michael Xavier and the Company of "Sunset Boulevard"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Glenn Close as Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at